Release Date: April 16th, 2016
Creators: Sandy Smolan, James Nestor
Viewed on: Samsung Gear VR
Type: 360 Video
When choosing from the many different VR projects to review, I was most excited by “The Click Effect” by Sandy Smolan of the New York Times. I am a sucker for bringing the camera to odd locations, and the documentary promises to take the viewer off dry land and into the deep ocean. Inspired by the book Deep, “The Click Effect” strives to connect the viewer with the beauty and intelligence of dolphins in the deep sea. Via the 360 video format and binaural audio, I was able to follow three divers as they explored shipwrecks and swim with dolphins in the deep sea. Ever-present were the distinct “clicks” of dolphins as they communicate and use sonar.
Swimming around in VR was a lot of fun. I felt the documentary experience really established that human-dolphin connection when it showed some clear parallels between the species. One scene had divers signaling to each other on one side, while you could hear the dolphins communicating via clicks on the other.
While fun, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the actual content of the documentary was taking a back seat to the VR. I felt the video employed some of the typical VR gimmicks – for instance, we swam through a small hole in a submarine, clearly trying to showcase the immersive aspect of the 360 view. Ironically, I didn’t find these shots added much to the immersion, and it felt more like eye-candy than content. Furthermore, I didn’t find that the VR experience was exceptionally executed. Because the movement of the camera is involuntary, and because the camera must bob and twist while diving, I found myself uneasy and dizzy in my seat. Switching the documentary to a 2D format perhaps would certainly impact immersion, but also largely remove the most distracting aspects of the documentary.
Despite the slightly distracting visuals, something “The Click Effect” does extremely well is establishing a sense of presence for the viewer - even with no interaction. The audio of the documentary was very well recorded. I could sense the relative location of each dolphin, just by listening. Furthermore, I was never confused about my size or location - something other VR titles sometimes mess up. While scene transitions were typical fades, they were very well timed. For example, as you swim out of a sunken submarine, you are staring at open ocean as it fades to another scene in the open ocean. This skillful editing made it so I never lost my sense of place.
If I were to give tips to improve “The Click Effect”, simply removing the gimmicky shots and improving the smoothness of the camera work would go a long way to remove the distractions while keeping the documentary’s strong foundation. For a free 7 minute experience, I definitely encourage viewers to give it a try.